Staff Leadership Book Pick of the Month: Resonant Leadership

Have you ever felt uninspired? Do you wish you could help create a more positive tone in your personal life or workplace? Have you ever felt out of touch with your family members or colleagues? Or, have you felt a lack of awareness of yourself and your surroundings? If any of these questions describe a time in your life, then, sadly, you are not alone. Even the best leaders have fallen into what Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, authors of the book Resonant Leadership, call “dissonance.”

Boyatzis and McKee describe dissonance as a time in a person’s life when the pressures for excellence and high performance for a sustained amount of time with too little reward and not enough time to recharge the battery cause a significant amount of stress.  Boyatzis and McKee share research, stories, theories, tools and exercise to, as the subtitle of the book states, “renew yourself, and connect with others through mindfulness, hope and compassion.”

Boyatzis and McKee have built a practical framework for leadership to identify when leaders are experiencing dissonance and share ways to counteract power stress and the cycle of sacrifice. Power stress is defined as being cognitively and emotionally drained due to pressure from everyday decisions, one’s sense of responsibility and influence over others. The cycle of sacrifice is caused by the lack of recovery time from the day-to-day stresses of being a leader: leaders give up their energy, health and well-being for the team, and often sacrifice their own health as a result. Because of these consequences of leadership, the authors believe that there needs to be a deliberate focus on creating resonance in leaders’ own mind, body, heart and spirit before sharing it with the people and groups that they interact with.

They have identified three key elements to resonant leadership: mindfulness, hope and compassion.

Boyatzis and McKee state that mindfulness is when leaders “live to seek lives in full consciousness of self, others, nature and society” (p. 5). They give the example of John Studzinski, who was able to accomplish so much due to his self-awareness and understanding of the people and world around him. This mindfulness has propelled John to the top of Morgan Stanley Europe. In this chapter, they provide several other examples, both positive and negative, of people that are or are not awake, aware, and actively attentive to themselves, people, and situations, along with research to support these actions. At the end of the chapter on mindfulness, just like all the other chapters, they offer an exercise to practice mindfulness toward others.

Boyatzis and McKee explain that hope is also a key ingredient to resonant leadership. They state that hope “enables us to believe that the future we envision is attainable, and to move toward our visions and goals while inspiring others toward those goals as well” (p.8). They gave the example of Mrs. Zikhali, who was a teacher in South Africa. At that time, schools were sparsely distributed, and it was challenging to get the government to give them monetary support. Mrs. Zikhali’s vision (hope) for a better future for the children in her community drove her to action. If it wasn’t for her hope of a positive future for the children in the community, a new school for more than 700 students and their chances to continue to high school, tech school or college would not exist. Her hope kept her focused and away from the perils of power stress and cycle of sacrifice.

Lastly, compassion was described as the “understanding of people’s wants and needs and motivation to act on those feelings” (p. 8). Boyatzis and McKee referenced the study Leading in Times of Trauma1 to explain how the ability to foster compassion throughout a team and organization can directly affect job performance, even through a crisis. They explain that by showing compassion, you minimize the emphasis of the organization and show a focus on the individual. Thus, there will be more buy-in to the purpose and vision of the team.

Boyatzis and McKee believe that these three components mindfulness, hope and compassion can spark a kind of positivity that enables resilience in the face of even the toughest challenges. The key takeaway from this book is there has to be a deliberate focus on being mindful, having and sharing hope, and having compassion for yourself and others. This is a process that takes work. It is not something that happens overnight. You have to be conscious of yourself, others and the environment as well as make sure you take time to reflect and rejuvenate.

As you go into this New Year, you may have a resolution to improve your leadership skills.


1Dutton, J., Frost, P., Worline, M., Lilius, J., & Kanov, J. (2002). Harvard Business Review. Leading in Times of Trauma,54-61. Retrieved December 27, 2018, from

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